Turnpike commission restores plan for Southern Beltway

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The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is resurrecting plans to build the second leg of the Southern Beltway that it hopes will eventually link Pittsburgh International Airport with the Mon-Fayette Expressway in Washington County.

The 13-mile second leg would extend from Route 22 at the southern end of the six-mile section already built in Findlay to Interstate 79 near the Washington-Allegheny county line and is expected to cost $632.5 million. Construction could begin in 2014 and was expected to take six years.

Turnpike Chairman William Lieberman made the announcement today.

"The fact that we're moving ahead with this project is significant news for motorists in the corridor because it will help ease congestion on arteries like the Parkway West, I-79 and ... Route 50," he said. "It will provide emergency-response vehicles, businesses and the public with a safer alternative to rural, two-lane roads."

"When opened to traffic, the Route 22 to I-79 Project will create economic opportunities in Findlay, Robinson, Mount Pleasant, Cecil and North and South Fayette townships," he said. "It will provide better access to sites being developed by the Allegheny County Airport Authority and a direct link from I-79 to more than 4,000 acres of private, untapped commercial and industrial lands."

The project will be funded with state grants, bonds and federal loans. No toll revenue will be used. When open, it will feature all-electronic toll collection using E-ZPass overhead gantries; no cash will be accepted. The turnpike is planning to convert its entire highway network to all-electronic tolling over the next five years.

The turnpike commission began acquiring land for the highway about four years ago, and has been criticized for boarding up a number of residential properties for a project that seemed like it would never be built. It has spent about $50 million on right-of-way acquisition so far and expects to acquire parts of more than 200 additional parcels.

The third and final portion of the Southern Beltway would link Interstate 79 to the Mon-Fayette Expressway near Finleyville. An alignment and schedule for that 12.5-mile, $700 million project has not been established.

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1868 and on Twitter @pgtraffic.

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